Delta Air Lines and the Lufthansa Group are jockeying to become the new state-owned Italian carrier Italia Trasporto Aereo’s (ITA) strategic partner after it begins flying in October.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian and Lufthansa Group CEO Carsten Spohr confirmed talks with the new carrier at the IATA Annual General Meeting in Boston on October 3. Though both emphasized that they were interested in a strategic commercial partnership of some sort — likely including a codeshare, interline and maybe joint venture — and not an equity investment at this time.
“[ITA] has some more fundamental questions before they launch rather than who their international partners are, but we’re in conversations,” Bastian said. He cited Delta’s long partnership with ITA predecessor Alitalia, which dates to the 1990s. Alitalia was also part of the Delta’s transatlantic joint venture with Air France and KLM until the pact was updated to include Virgin Atlantic in 2020.
Spohr was much more aggressive in his approach to ITA. Citing the fact that Italy is the Lufthansa Group’s most important foreign market after the U.S., he said a partnership with Lufthansa was the “natural home” for the new carrier.
“If you look at Swiss, you see how good it was for them not to be called Swissair. I would assume that a new Italian airline copies the model of Swiss in two ways: Finds Lufthansa as a partner and adopts a new name. It’s the magic secret of success,” Spohr said. The Lufthansa Group acquired a minority stake in Swiss, and the carriers established a commercial partnership three years after it launched in 2005, and now owns the airline outright.
Spohr said he met with ITA Executive Chairman Alfredo Altavilla to discuss a possible partnership during the last week of September.
ITA plans to replace Alitalia and begin flying on October 15, though recent reports suggest that date could slide to March. It will launch with 52 aircraft and plans to grow to 105 aircraft by 2025. At the end of September, ITA signed commitments for 59 Airbus jets from the manufacturer and lessor Air Lease Corporation.
In a business plan released in July, ITA outlined a “beauty contest” to select a new partner airline. And that contest would determine its future alliance membership. Both Delta and Lufthansa have been reportedly interested in ITA.
Italy was the EU’s fourth-largest airline market by passenger numbers after Spain, Germany, and France in 2019, according to Eurostat data. The market size makes it attractive to foreign partners — Bastian described Italy as “very important market for U.S. travelers” — as well as European discounters, including Ryanair and Wizz Air.